EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is part of the call to prayer issued by Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, to pray for revival and spiritual awakening for our churches, our nation and our world.
DALLAS (BP) — “Dear God, please ruin me!”
Doesn’t sound like a prayer any of us would say, does it? However, there is clear indication in Scripture that some Christians may actually be inviting God to do just that by their actions and attitudes.
Before we continue, we need to understand something. Those who say the Bible isn’t relevant to contemporary culture need to realize that the immorality of our world today is identical to what was present in first century Corinth. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is firmly founded on God’s truth and was written to a church in a pagan culture permeated with sensuality, violence, corruption, divisions and doctrinal heresy.
The Corinthians were an immature body of believers, filled with divisive debates, compromise, immorality, favoritism, anger, bitterness, slander, spiritual arrogance and lawsuits. They apparently did not understand the significance of their chaotic fellowship in the eyes of the Lord. Paul reminds them in chapter three that he cannot address them as mature because they are still “fleshly.” Their behavior reflected their culture rather than spiritual maturity that would have morally distinguished them.
“Don’t you know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” Paul asked them in Corinthians 3:16. “If anyone ruins God’s sanctuary, God will ruin him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.”
There are two Greek words for “sanctuary” in the New Testament. One defines the entire temple complex. The other, found in this text, refers to the innermost dwelling place, the Holy of Holies. Think of it; believers are the Holy of Holies for the Holy Spirit. What an awesome thought!
But here is the ignored part of these verses: “Sanctuary” is singular, but “you” is plural. Every believer is a temple of God, and that is the way we usually interpret this verse. However the church itself — the body of believers — is a temple of God. The church is holy just as individuals are holy, and God jealously guards that which is holy.
Collectively, we are God’s sanctuary. The individual who fails to act rightly toward the body of believers is guilty of rebellion against God. The verb “ruin” is repeated in Corinthians 3:17. The punishment here is not an arbitrary decision. The believer who promotes divisions, turmoil, chaos and disruption within the fellowship of the church “ruins” or desecrates the Holy of Holies of God and thus invites personal destruction from God.
This ancient message is contemporary and tragically relevant. Our churches are surrounded by pagan culture and filled with many problems, not all of them theological. We must take personal responsibility for our actions in the fellowship of God’s sanctuary which is the church. Only then can we make a global impact on our world. If our churches are to be change agents reaching the lost instead of members-only country clubs, we must stop ruining the fellowship of the church.
Southern Baptists have taken a stand upon the truth of God’s Word. However, we find everywhere in the churches of our convention dissensions, divisions, slander, anger, bitterness and continual fighting over control and authority within the church. We are inviting ruin.
We have a choice of two prayers: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary,” or, “Dear God, please ruin me!” Which are you praying?
James T. Draper Jr. is interim president of Criswell College in Dallas, president emeritus of LifeWay Christian Resources and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).